Indian American astrophysicist Shrinivas R. Kulkarni has been honored with the 2024 Shaw Prize in Astronomy for his groundbreaking research on millisecond pulsars, gamma-ray bursts, and other transient astronomical phenomena.

Kulkarni, the George Ellery Hale Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Science at Caltech, was awarded alongside three other laureates on May 21 by the Hong Kong-based Shaw Prize Foundation. The prize committee highlighted his pivotal role in the development of the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) and its successor, the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), which have significantly advanced the field of time-domain astronomy.

“His work has revolutionized our understanding of the time-variable optical sky,” the committee noted. Time-domain astronomy focuses on observing celestial objects that change in brightness over time, providing insights into stellar evolution, the universe’s age, and fundamental physics.

Kulkarni’s career is marked by several key discoveries. As a student, he contributed to finding the first millisecond pulsar, a type of neutron star known for its precision, aiding tests of Einstein’s general relativity and the search for gravitational waves. In 1997, he and his team pinpointed the distance of a gamma-ray burst, proving its extragalactic origins.

Kulkarni also pioneered the detection of fast radio bursts (FRBs). In 2020, his STARE2 radio detectors confirmed that magnetars could produce FRBs, a significant milestone in understanding these mysterious phenomena.

The PTF and ZTF projects, spearheaded by Kulkarni, utilize advanced technology to scan the Northern sky every two days, identifying and alerting astronomers worldwide to transient events. These efforts have uncovered thousands of rare astronomical occurrences, from supernovae to binary stars.

The Shaw Prize also acknowledges Kulkarni’s contributions to stellar astronomy, including the discovery of brown dwarfs, which bridge the gap between planets and stars. His work has laid the foundation for ongoing research into sub-stellar objects and their atmospheres.

Kulkarni’s achievements have not only transformed our knowledge of the universe but have also inspired and trained a new generation of astronomers in time-domain astronomy.